Take Up Space: The Integration of Safe City Pledge and the Changelooms Journey

What happens when your personal passion becomes your life work?

Meet Yamini Deenadayalan, a freelancer and youth social activist. 
Encounter Safe City Pledge, an initiative she helped start through Blank Noise just over a year ago. 

Catch a glimpse of youth development, gender, and entrepreneurship can be integrated in a most beautiful way from the voice and experience of Yamini… 

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I. The Changelooms Journey

If travel is a state of mind, Changelooms has been a journey into the social and personal realities of fellow Changeloomers which are often different from mine. I have been thinking a lot about boundaries as I was also on a fellowship in the US a few months back, again in a space that welcomed participants from very diverse age, nationality, and ethnic backgrounds. 

And so, it seems to me that travel is a great clarifier. The sea reminds you of its curve towards other spots on the same planet, towards a little piece of land in the North of India that is home, for now. Boundaries blur and clichéd as it sounds, when identities shake off like sand on skin, connections become so seamless. And despite the enormous difference, there is something that is so universal about human experience. 

Personally, and professionally, it has been very interesting for me to explore the gendered realities of my co-participants and their communities, the commonalities and the differences. The gender issues we work with in our community range from conflicts in intimate relationships, sexual harassment, occupying public space, critically examining gender etc. that is relevant to our largely urban lower middle class to upper middle class Delhi audience. In the process of Changelooms, however, the nuance of these issues and various others such as early marriage, lack of access to education for girls, domestic violence etc. which are central to the work of our co-participants has instilled a complex process of introspection that I am still trying to define for myself. 

A fellow Changeloomer from the North East mentioned that the way gender violence played out in her community was completely different from how it is here. The sense of freedom that women enjoy, albeit with its own limitations, is not the same here in Delhi. And then, she said, “When girls from my community move to Delhi or other cities, they are considered too “free”. It is almost as if one were plucked from one gendered reality and placed in another one with a different history that by default interpreted the mobility of women as transgression. All these conversations had in the informal spaces that the DC provided, sharpened, and broadened the scope of what we take into our workshops and interventions. 

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Workshop with Changelooms Facilitators

II. The Organization’s Work

Our work is about conversations with young people on the street, in schools and colleges about gender, violence, the personal and societal sense of safety, self-awareness and finally personal accountability for our city. 

Street: 

When we do Safe City Pledge street interventions and conversations inviting curious bystanders to take a pledge, there are some questions that have consistently come up over the months. One such question is whether women are responsible for the violence inflicted upon them because of the way they dressed or the way they behaved. Street facilitation is spontaneous, on the spot and for the lack of a better word, quick. It has always been important for us to not enforce our opinions, and instead let the conversation flow. All of us have inherited an automatic way of thinking. Patriarchy has struck roots in our collective consciousness for thousands of years and the idea that women transgress by going too far in a male public space has occurred to many of us at different times. To loosen the grip of this deep seated assumption, we have to ask: Whose city is it? Whose Responsibility? At some point, the boundaries blur, the conversation folds and the personal narrative of facilitator and participant meet. You inhabit each other’s world. The pledge is a mere consequence of that moment. When the participant accesses his/her own personal gendered reality, and decides a small or big course of action that they can actually take and that which is not merely symbolic, it emerges. We view each such transaction as a personal success and learning, a small shift towards a safer and more inclusive Delhi. 

School/College: 

In schools and colleges, we have extended conversations through many sessions and in the last session, students create their own pledges that hopefully arises from some of the questions they ask of themselves in the first few sessions. Being in this space always makes me present to my own adolescence – a muddled, confused, exciting, desperate time and yet enables me to distance myself from it. We do both segregated and non-segregated sessions and it is always heartening to see the pledges emerge from the students or see through our sessions, stray comments that emerge. “Yes, of course girls masturbate”, or “I didn’t realise that girls get upset by my comments”, or “Yes, boys get raped and it’s hard to talk about it”, or a recent comment by a girl in our feedback form, “Suddenly, I thought that, actually, I can do whatever I want.” 

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Yamini Deenadayalan 
Blank Noise 

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